We sing along/listen to:
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
What are you afraid of? Does that question sound familiar? It should, as last Sunday we thought about Jesus’ words in the Gospel, “do not be afraid…”
Last week, we thought about the story of St Thomas More, the man who would not abandon God, and went to his death, holding the convictions of his faith and his conscience, he died ‘the King’s good servant, but God’s first’.
Today, our second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans touches on what is perhaps considered the greatest fear of them all: the fear of death.
In our society today, death is usually the elephant in the room. In normal circumstances, when we were Covid free, people would often say: ‘oh Mrs X has passed away’ in a hushed tone, refusing to saying Mrs X had died.
Or the age old saying: ‘he’s not really gone anywhere because I can feel his presence’, not realising that it’s all psychological.
Or even in the ever popular poem, ‘death is nothing at all’ which goes on to say, I have only slipped into the next room, nothing has changed’. Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved knows all too well how ridiculous a sentiment this is, and yet, as the Great British public we swallow it every time and say, “ah isn’t that nice”.
Covid-19 has highlighted the topic of death. Death has become a reality to be faced.
Last week, we heard these words ‘are you not aware that we who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death’. Today, Paul picks up the theme once again. We who have been baptized are united then with Jesus in his death, only through his amazing grace, poured out for us in his own life and death.
For St Paul, and for Christians yesterday, today and tomorrow, death has always been at the very heart of Christianity. Why? Put simply, because Jesus died. Paul boldly states, ‘we preach Christ crucified’.
The whole of the Christian life then is centred on the Christ who died – Christian life is centred on his redeeming death.
It was the practice of the early Church, during baptisms to have your head thrust under the water, and held there until you started to suffocate. Only then would you be released and be able to breath once again – baptism was then, an almost literal experience of death.
Baptism isn’t the only thing that reminds us of death. In the Mass, when break bread and share wine, ‘we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again’.
When we make the sign of the cross, we trace over our bodies the symbol of torture and death, remembering that we ourselves are united to him.
The beginning of the Christian life, baptism, is death.
The central act of worship and growth in faith in the eucharist, is calling to mind death.
Death, his death, is part of the DNA of Christianity.
Why, you might ask, is a priest going on about death and fear? It’s not very joyful is it? Is it just plain morbidity?
Paul doesn’t want his hearers to forget that are saved by grace, given through the death of Jesus. And I don’t want you to forget it either. We need to be constantly reminded of it, and Paul makes that clear. We as Christians cannot simply see it as the elephant in the room, or as nothing at all.
Christianity refuses to let us get away with it.
The purpose is for us to become used to the reality of death.
The Christian life should be a preparation for death. And so often today it is not, because lives are filled with the things that distract us from death – drink, money, sex, drugs, the list goes on… But as Paul reminds us today, the result of those things is death.
And as we face one of the most potent of viruses in living memory, then the fear of death, naturally, comes to the fore.
None of us can escape it; death will come for us, whether we like it or not.
Death will come - but we remember that death is the gateway to life, Paul pleads with us today: ‘present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life’.
Christianity immerses us in death from the beginning right though our lives, so that we might find freedom from it.
Paul tells us, that if we trust in Jesus’ own death, we shall, in the words of the Gospel today, not lose our reward. We shall have life.
Because, in Paul’s own words, if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall surely be united to him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6.5)
Or in his other words: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2.20)
The Christian faith, which is a sharing in the life of Christ, and that life, is, in our last words of the second reading, a ‘free gift of God’ which is eternal life.
If we are not scared of death – we will have the gift of eternal life, because we have learnt to place our faith in him.
May we who have been baptized into Christ’s death share in his resurrection, as we boldly say: ‘it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.’
that we who are baptized into the death
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits,
who died and was buried and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We sing along/listen to: